WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The new commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan plans an immediate review of operations to ensure his troops are focused on safeguarding key population centers, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
U.S. General Stanley McChrystal said he plans to spend eight to 10 days meeting with his military commanders as well as some provincial and village leaders to make an assessment, the newspaper said.
In an interview in Kabul shortly after assuming command, McChrystal told the newspaper the review will focus on which areas U.S., NATO and Afghan troops could secure with current force levels.
“We are going to look at those parts of the country that are most important — and those typically, in an insurgency, are the population centers,” McChrystal said.
“We’ve got to ruthlessly prioritize, because we don’t have enough forces to do everything, everywhere,” he said.
McChrystal takes command midway through a massive build-up of U.S. forces which will see their numbers more than double from 32,000 at the end of 2008 to 68,000 by the end of this year. He also commands about 30,000 troops from other NATO allies.
The Post said McChrystal would likely take a hard look at the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have for several years been locked in an intense battle.
“The question in the Korengal is: How many of those fighters, if left alone, would ever come out of there to fight?” McChrystal said. “I can’t answer it. But I do sense that you create a lot of opposition through operations” by the military. “So you have got to decide where you are going to operate.”
The Post said the new commander also wants to revamp the way U.S. forces investigate and respond to civilian casualties.
Civilian deaths caused by foreign troops hunting insurgents have angered many Afghans and have been the main source of friction between President Hamid Karzai’s government and the United States.
“The Afghan people, particularly the Pashtuns, have a sense of honor and equity that says if you commit a wrong that it has got to be adjudicated, and the person who commits that wrong has got to make some sort of compensation,” McChrystal said. “We have to understand that process so that when we engage with the population, we don’t make things worse.”